Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.
Lets talk about fire
Just so everyone knows, I think that the preachers who have sermons on fire and revival and God coming like a fire and this is the glory are completely polluting the Church. Our understanding of fire is often very different to the concept given in Scripture. We seek it as some sort of feeling, or even a certain kind of manifestation, all of which is idolatry and an abomination. Why do I say this?
Fire is a topic in the Scriptures. It doesn’t need to be ignored. It is, however, misrepresented. When the Hebrews would think of fire, they would think of fire. When most charismatic preachers and laymen hear the word “fire,” they think of some sort of emotional-hype-ooey-gooey-amazing-fall-over-because-of-the-immense-tangible-glory-of-God-OH-MY-GOD-I-CAN’T-EVEN-BREATH-BECAUSE-I’M-LAUGHING-SO-HARD-shaking-my-head-like-a-fish-flopping-out-of-water-no-self-control-over-my-muscles-but-don’t-let-it-stop-because-it-feels-sssoooo-goooood kind of manifestation.
Since when has being set on fire meant a delight? Since when has burning alive meant that we are going to just smile and put our hands up and have that “holy posture” while we praise Jesus silently? Since when has fire meant that our bodies jerk backwards uncontrollably?
I hate the “fire” movement.
Now that I’ve got that out in the open, lets talk about fire.
When we speak of things, such as the baptism of fire, or the fire of God, we shouldn’t use them in a way that seek for manifestations. Often the Scripture does record manifestations. Yet, somehow, when you read the stories, they seem so little like what we’ve come to see and experience. There is sobriety. There is self-control. There is love. There is solemnity. There is adoration. There is reverence. And, many times, there are tears.
What are some of the purposes of fire? It keeps a person warm. It purifies. It can be harnessed for landscaping purposes (like a controlled burning of a field that it might grow back more abundantly). It gives light. You can use it to cook food. You can steam bend wood over a fire. It softens tar and pitch. It repels predators and pesky insects. We’ve even developed smoke signals for communication.
These are the kinds of things that the Hebrews would have been thinking when they use fire as a symbol. When it says that God is an all-consuming fire, it has this kind of connotation. He is light. He warms the soul in the cold and harsh dark world. He is pure and purifies. This is what we need to think of. Everywhere that I can see the word fire in the Scriptures, it seems to have these kinds of contexts.
I have never seen in the Scripture where fire (by itself) is used as a symbol of emotion or spirituality. There are idioms. There are metaphors. There are allegories. There are symbols. When fire is emphasized, it can mean passion, but always means purity. When God comes, He purifies and purges. When the Messiah comes, He will purify and purge (according to Malachi 3). Well, Jesus did speak of this purifying. He did come like a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap. He will come again in the same way – this time to purge the world of sin once and for all by killing the antichrist and throwing Satan into the “lake of fire.”
Which is another reference, right? What about all of the symbols that we instantly think of with fire? We think of passion, yes. But we also think of fire and brimstone. What about hell? Is hell just a place where we get purified and then go to heaven?
Fire isn’t a mere passion. Fire isn’t hype. Fire isn’t emotion. Fire describes a purification. But how do we get purified? We bear our own shame. We confess to a brother our weaknesses. We humble ourselves and open ourselves to admitting our shortcomings. We also embrace others knowing that the weaknesses they struggle with are nothing that we aren’t capable of committing. We embrace them, and we love them, and we struggle with them to overcome together.
That is going through the fire. Fire purifies, because fire shows the dross. All of the impurities are exposed. Nothing is hidden. Silver can look pure until it is melted down. Suddenly all of the dirt and dross that we couldn’t see rises to the surface. This is painful. It is exposing. We must bear this.
If we do not bear our shame here in this life, then we will bear it for eternity. If we do not open our lives for others to see our imperfections, then we will enter into the next age with the same defects. What will you do then? Will you repent when you’re at the judgement seat? By that point it is too late.
There is a real sense in which Zechariah 2:5 can be preached as “we must pass through the flames of heaven to enter into the glory of heaven.” There must be a suffering before there is a glory. If we are unwilling to bear our suffering, and bear the shame of our sin before our brothers and sisters, then we will never find freedom. I have a hard time in viewing people as people. That is something that I need others to know so that when I start speaking or acting in a way that displays that, they can come along side of me and lovingly point it out.
I need community. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, we see that the glory of God is beheld in each other’s faces. This is what moves us from image to image, glory to glory. I need community where the glory of God can be reflected in the face of my brother or sister, and they can purify my soul.
This is what fire is all about. If we pray for the fire of God, we are praying for exposure. We are praying for purity – but purity of what kind? Maybe a better way to ask is: purity as a result of what? We must bear the shame and the suffering. Otherwise we are weak Christians. This is not a good weakness where we can say, “Where I am weak, He is strong.” This kind of weakness can result in hellfire that will not be put out. This kind of weakness can result in harming the image of God. This kind of weakness can result in harming others’ lives. We need to be very careful.
So, ultimately fire is not a synonym or symbol of glory. But it is often used as a synonym and symbol of glory. I felt the need to divest myself in this to expose the faulty foundation that some are standing on. You don’t need to stop teaching on fire – you don’t need to stop praying for fire. What needs to change is our attitudes and our mindsets about what fire is.
In Leviticus 9, we do see the glory of God and the fire coming in the same breath. But, notice the wording. There is very careful wording to let us know that the fire is not the glory. The fire is the result of the glory. The fire comes out from the glory. It is true that the flame could possibly be what causes the people to fall on their face in joy. There is indeed a time and a place for fire, and there is even a time and place for some of the hype and passion. It is all to be the result of God’s glory, though, and not simply from our own ambitions and “working up”. It is actually that very thing that will be expressed in the next part, when we see the two sons of Aaron bringing false fire.